THE NEW YORK TIMES: Part of Waste Problem Is Now Part of Solution

April 22, 2012

HONEST TEA, like other organic beverage sellers, normally promotes its real leaves, fair trade certified tea, less sugary taste and environmentally friendly packaging. Its newest campaign acknowledges that it is part of a problem of waste in discarded drink containers and, to counter that, encourages more recycling.

The company alone generates about 20 million glass bottles and 60 million plastic bottles annually. Over all, Americans used 38.6 billion glass beverage containers, and 71.9 billion plastic beverage bottles in 2010, according to the Container Recycling Institute, an antiwaste organization based in Culver City, Calif., that tracks data on the topic.

The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that only about 33 percent of glass bottles, and as few as 27 percent of plastic bottles, are recycled.

“We wanted to do something in a big, visible way,” said Seth Goldman, co-founder and chief executive of Honest Tea, a low-calorie beverage brand that Coca-Cola bought last year.

“Recycling rates are still low, so we were looking for something aggressive but still fun and engaging to deliver the message,” Mr. Goldman said.

The company’s first “Great Recycle” event will take place on April 30, in Times Square, with a 30-foot-tall recycle bin, then move to other cities. The immediate goal is to recycle 45,000 beverage cans or bottles — the number of products that Honest Tea sells daily in the city. From there, Honest Tea plans to expand its recycling aggressively.

The event is part of a campaign that will use online, social media and some outdoor advertising. Mr. Goldman said Honest Tea chose New York because it was the company’s largest market, and to support Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg’s drive to double recycling in the city by 2017. Only about 15 percent of the city’s total waste is being recycled. The New York Department of Sanitation says 182 tons of glass bottles and jars go into the trash every day.

The Honest Tea campaign is an outgrowth of recycling efforts that the company started at its home base, in Bethesda, Md. The company has placed more than 30 recycling bins on city streets, and has also provided bins to music festivals.

While municipalities and parks still face mounds of jettisoned drink containers, large beverage companies have been promoting recycling. In recent years, Coke has provided some 150,000 bins to events and public areas, and set up beverage container recycling centers. It also has supported curbside residential recycling.

As consumers have drifted away from soda to less sugary beverages, tea sales have boomed. Last year, they were $6.5 billion, up 5.2 percent over 2010, according to a report by market research company Packaged Facts.

The Honest Tea event is being advertised on city billboards, and at businesses and colleges in the city’s five boroughs. Over a 10-hour period, recyclers will be able to climb onto a stage to toss bottles or cans into the huge bin. Honest Tea employees, including Mr. Goldman, will pedal a bicycle-powered conveyor belt to carry bottles and cans to be dropped in the bin.

Participants will be able to claim a rewards point for each recycled container, and add points with a recycling pledge made on stage. Using points, they can claim items including cold bottles of Honest Tea, T-shirts, tickets to concerts and Broadway shows, yoga mats and skateboards.

For those not in Times Square that day, the company is spreading the recycling word with a new Web site, Thegreatrecycle.com, where users can recycle an old Facebook status message in return for points in a program devised with Amalgamated Advertising, an independent agency in New York.

“We wanted to reach out to brand-friendly influencers and friends to make people more aware of recycling,” said Paul Aaron, the agency’s director of interactive.

Online participants earn points for each post that is recycled. Points can be redeemed at Recyclebank.com for discounts and items from more than 3,000 businesses, including restaurants and stores.

Honest Tea did not disclose how much it is spending on the campaign, but Mr. Goldman said the costs of getting a permit for Times Square, the bin and other expenses “were not inconsiderable.” Last year, Honest Tea spent slightly less than $1.1 million on advertising, according to figures from Kantar Media.

As part of its campaign, Honest Tea also produced a 60-second teaser video that, wordlessly, tracks one bottle’s path to being recycled. It was produced with Wandering Hat, a Washington-based video production company, and can be found on Honesttea.com and at Thegreatrecycle.com.

In addition, the company has set up a Twitter tag called #GreatRecycle, which will be emblazoned on the side of the bin and on fliers (made of recycled paper) to be distributed in the city. To build interest, Honest Tea also is using Facebook ads.

The collected bottles will be refashioned, according to Honest Tea, by the nonprofit GrowNYC as urban gardening supplies, including shovels and watering cans, as part of its program for public schools.

Honest Tea will be collecting one of its best-selling products, Honest Kids drink pouches, but the pouches cannot be easily repurposed because of their design. Honest Tea works with TerraCycle, a company that creates recycling systems for previously nonrecyclable or hand-to-recycle waste, to remake drink pouches into pencil cases and other items. The program has saved nearly a million pouches from landfills, Honest Tea says.

“Our focus is to make a high impact this month, which is called ‘Earth Month,’ ” Mr. Goldman said. “We want people to be aware and make a commitment.”

-The New York Times, April 22, 2012